Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Cleveland struggles with the pandemic, poverty and violence

According to The New York Times, here are plenty of numbers that quantify the combined impact of the pandemic and the recession that have battered the country: At least 7.8 million people have fallen into poverty, the biggest plunge in six decades; 85 million Americans say they have had trouble paying basic household expenses, including food and rent; there are roughly 10 million fewer jobs now than there were in February and more violence.

As in CincinnatiWichita, Kan., and several other U.S. cities, 2020 was the worst year for murders in Cleveland in decades. The police reports corroborate this: more violence, more harrowing details about the way people are now surviving. A man living with his son in an abandoned house was beaten and shot by thieves; an Amazon delivery truck was carjacked and abandoned. House burglaries are down across the city while the number of shootings has exploded.

But the numbers do not capture the feeling of growing desperation in neighborhoods like some on Cleveland’s east side — communities that had already been struggling before the pandemic. These days people who have long lived and worked in these neighborhoods talk of a steady unraveling.

Gunfire echoes almost nightly, they say. The Cleveland police reported six homicides in one 24-hour period in November. Everyone talks about the driving — over the past few months in the Cleveland neighborhood of Slavic Village, cars have crashed into a corner grocery store, a home and a beloved local diner. In Cuyahoga County, 19 people recently died of drug overdoses in one week. All as the virus continues its lethal spread.

“Sometimes,” said the Rev. Richard Gibson, whose 101-year-old church stands in Slavic Village, “it feels like we’re losing our grip on civilization.”

The relief measures signed recently by President Trump — $600 stimulus checks, an extra $300 per week to unemployment benefits, a one-month extension to a federal moratorium on evictions, $25 billion in rental assistance — offer some help, though there is no direct state or local aid. And from the ground, the whole system can feel impossibly opaque.

Legal Aid lawyers in Cleveland say many of their clients had not even heard about the eviction moratorium, some only learning of it after being evicted. One client, a 30-year-old mother of four, showed up to plead her case at rent court only to be turned away because new pandemic protocols, which she had never heard about, forbade children on courtroom floors. The places where many would ordinarily have gone to learn about new benefits and new rules — where they might have access to a decent internet connection, for example — are now closed.

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